Egypt considers India for wheat imports

CAIRO, March 19 Wed Mar 20, 2013 12:17am IST

CAIRO, March 19 (Reuters) - Egypt is considering buying Indian wheat as a way to diversify its sources, an Egyptian minister told an Indian newspaper, as the top global importer seeks to ensure supply through an economic crisis.

Changes to Egypt's food safety law could make it easier for exporters to work with it, Investment Minister Osama Saleh told The Hindu Business Line in an interview published on its website on Tuesday.

"Yes, we are definitely looking at India as an importing country for wheat. We want to have several diversified sources and not just the EU or the U.S. or Canada," he said.

He said Egypt's Food Safety Measures law was being amended and would give more flexibility to exporters.

"Issues of quality control apply to both wheat and meat. So it should help exporters of both commodities," he said on a visit to India as part of a trade delegation travelling with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi.

Indian wheat is generally lower in quality than European and North American produce and more comparable to locally-grown Egyptian wheat which requires blending with imports for use in bread-making.

Egypt relies heavily on imports to feed its 84 million people; last year around half of the wheat they consumed was imported.

Its strategic stocks of wheat have fallen to 2.207 million tonnes, enough to last 89 days, a cabinet report said last week. Economic turmoil has made it harder to arrange payments for wheat imports. The pace of purchases has tumbled since the start of the year.

While stocks have fallen, the government also raised its projection of the local harvest. The agriculture minister on Monday forecast domestic wheat production of 9.475 million tonnes this season.

India, the world's second largest producer, plans to export record volumes of wheat this year. Grain stocks have already surpassed its secure storage capacity of 47 million tonnes, risking damage from pests and weather. Another bumper harvest of some 92 million tonnes is on the way.

(Reporting by Sylvia Westall, editing by William Hardy)

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